Friends of Seafield House (FoSH) was established on 15 October 2012 to support the campaign by SAVE Britain’s Heritage among others to save Seafield House in Ayr, securing a new use for this iconic building and developing proposals for its restoration.
Patron: Andrew Arrol
On 15 October 2012, over 15 of Scotland and Britain’s leading conservation architects and engineers, architectural historians, academics, authors, entrepreneurs and local residents met in Ayr to launch their campaign to SAVE Seafield House in Ayr – the former home of Sir William Arrol – by establishing the Friends of Seafield House. This Steering Group meeting was opened by Marcus Binney CBE Hon FRIBA, Executive President, SAVE Britain’s Heritage, after which it was chaired by Patrick Lorimer FRIAS.
Sir William Arrol (1839-1913), the Scottish civil engineer, bridge builder, and Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for South Ayrshire constructed the iconic Forth Rail Bridge, London’s Tower Bridge and a host of other important bridges and buildings across the world.
For many years Seafield House was a roofless ruin that stood empty and neglected, slowly decaying after a savage fire had gutted the interior in 2008. On first sight of the B-Listed building in 2012, Marcus Binney described it as “poignantly beautiful”. At that time it was owned by NHS Ayrshire & Arran, which had proved to be a poor steward of the building. In 2011, faced by strong local and national opposition, the NHS Trust withdrew its application to demolish the category B listed building.
Friends of Seafield House (FoSH) was set up following the Steering Group meeting opened by Marcus Binney CBE Hon FRIBA, Executive President, SAVE Britain’s Heritage, after which it was chaired by Patrick Lorimer FRIAS, as Interim Chair.
Marcus Binney said:
“Ruined castles tower houses and mansions have survived centuries of abandon and neglect all over Scotland and during the past 60 years not just dozens but hundreds have been brought back to life and use by enterprising new owners. Seafield House must not be allowed to join the long list of over 200 major historic houses demolished in Scotland since 1945”
Patrick Lorimer said:
”Not only is the building iconic in the light of its original owner it is also a critical and vital element within the historic landscape of this unique part of Ayr, it should and can be rescued”
Andrew Arrol, Patron of the Friends of Seafield House, who as Surveyor to York Minster, is in charge of one of the most important and ambitious repair and restoration programmes in the British Isles, said:
“In my view Seafield House can certainly be saved. It is very well built of good durable materials and potential has many years of life ahead of it.”
Charles Blackett-Ord, a leading structural engineer with long experience of endangered historic buildings who also attended the meeting said:
“Despite the loss of most of the roof in the fire, the walls remain substantial and stable and a quite modest programme of urgent works could safeguard the building while plans are drawn up for its rescue”
Rob Close was elected as Chair at FoSH’s 1st Committee meeting on 30 October 2012. With the support of SAVE Britain’s Heritage and others, FoSH began its campaigning to save Seafield House. We welcomed the support of Kyle & Carrick Civic Society in the latter part of our campaign.
In September 2013, NHS Ayrshire & Arran commissioned Ryden, the commercial property agent, to launch a fresh enabling development opportunity marketing campaign. FoSH stepped up its campaigning when Ryden announced no buyer had been found. FoSH challenged this announcement, knowing that this announcement was the precursor to a third attempt to obtain Listed Building Consent (LBC) to demolish and that a local developer was, indeed, an interested purchaser. In October 2014, FoSH marked the sale of the house and grounds to local developer Econstruct.
Econstruct Estates Seafield Ltd was set up to restore and convert Seafield House into apartments and partnered with Westpoint Homes to develop the grounds. FoSH supported the developer throughout the planning and listed building consent phases. We understood clearly that conservation of Seafield House would be made possible only by using a substantial part of the profits from the new development for the conservation of the building. We lobbied to have this written into the planning consent for the new housing, describing the development as a classic ‘enabling development’. FoSH was pleased to see this made a planning consent condition in the planning authority’s approval of the LBC and planning application.
FoSH has continued to offer support, particularly in the developer’s discussions with NHS Ayrshire & Arran while Seafield House is being restored and converted into 10 apartments and Westpoint Homes is building 27 new houses in the grounds.
Sir William Arrol was my grt grt uncle, his sister m arried my great grandfather , David Robertson MacLardie, Mary Hodgart Arrol was Sir Williams youngest sister. I saw Seafield house for the first time a few years ago, I thought it was really beautiful even in its sorry state. Do you know if the Cupola was put back? It would be amazing if it was. I have only seen photo graphs of the inside, it was ver grand. I hoped it would be saved, I thought it might have been turned into a museum, which would have been lovely to see it as it was. I know that wasn’t practical though as it probably wasn’t financially viable. I hope the apartments are a great success. Julia Gowen. Nee Julia Arrol Mac Lardie.
Thanks Julia for sharing your family connection with Sir William Arrol and for your good wishes. I am also a 2x great niece, but through his first wife. From what I’ve read he certainly seems to have been very close to his family and generous with them in many ways. Sadly, no family stories or photographs have been passed on so all my information about Arrol and his family come from records and publications. I wonder if that is the same with you or if you have some mementoes passed down? The restoration of Seafield House is looking fabulous so I hope that you will get the chance to see it again. Conversion into apartments was the only viable option for saving the building but I think it is quite fitting that it is being returned to residential use. Although the interior won’t be open to the public, the apartments will offer a very unique and luxurious home for some very fortunate owners. Sadly the beautiful stained glass cupola that you mention was destroyed by the fire in 2008. The restoration, however, has been sympathetic to the original design and a new glass cupola has been installed above the main hall, although without decorative glasswork. Please do keep an eye on our website as we will continue to post photographs of the restoration on our Gallery page.
I was born in Seafield Hospital in 1941, 81 years ago, my family came from Dumbarton. but because of the Blitze our house was badly damaged and my Mother was taken off the train at Ayr. So happy to see this Heritage building being saved. Came to Canada in 1948.
John thanks for sharing your story and connection with Seafield Hospital. It’s great to hear from people from around the world, like yourself, who have an emotional connection to the building and have been keeping an interest in what happens to it.
Sir William Arrol was my Grandmother’s (Margaret Arrol) Great Uncle.
When I came across the our organization, I was elated.
We heard many stories about his achievements, but nothing of this grand Castle in Sure.
Thank you so much for working hard to rebuild such a beautiful home.
Thank you for getting in touch. It is great to hear that you found our website and learned something new about our amazing family member (I am related through his first wife who was my Great Grandmother’s sister). Seafield House is such a special building to so many people for different reasons, either through the Arrol connection or its time as a hospital. We are really pleased after 8 years campaigning to see work proceeding on its restoration by Econstruct Estates Seafield.
I recomend reading the book The Briggers,about the building of the Forth Rail Bridge,the people that worked on the bridge and around it,how Arrol invented machinery as it was needed.
I agree, I have read it and it is a fascinating book. It shows that although there was a high number of fatalities during construction, some of the machinery and measures introduced by Arrol were to improve safety and helped prevent many injuries and deaths.
My father started work at William Arrol’s works in 1923,aged 14,he worked 5 1/2 days a week.In the evenings he went to what was,Glasgow Technical College to learn more about civil engieering.In 1839 he went to England as there was little work in Scotland.He became an aircraft inspector for the MOD.His name was William McMillan Gunning.
Hi Susan. Thanks for sharing the story of your father. In some ways he shared a similar start to his career as Sir William Arrol ie. starting work at a young age ( in Arrol’s case, just 9 years old) and after a long days work spending the evenings studying to further his career. I expect that he had a good apprenticeship with Arrol’s and I wonder what constructions he worked on during his time with them.
I would be devastated if Seafield House was demolished(God forbid) or left to rot.My father worked at The Arrol works in Dalmarnock from 1923-1939,he was so proud of the achievements of the company,he told me about walking across the Forth Rail Bridge where the Briggers had gone to build and paint the Bridge.Years later 2 of my daughters were treated at Seafield Children’s Hospital and my son was taken there when he died.It’s only recently that I have found out about the history of the Hospital and I’ll sign any petition to repair and reuse the historic building
We totally agree with your sentiments Susan. The house is very special to a lot of people with it’s history of Arrol and as a Hospital. You are tied to the building both with your amazing family history in the Arrol works and with your children having been treated at the hospital and so your connection to the building is doubly strong.
We are currently waiting for Econstruct Design and Build, the owner of Seafield House, to submit their application for the restoration and conversion of the house into flats. If that goes ahead then the house will be saved. Friends of Seafield House have been campaigning to secure the future of the building since 2012 when the council refused permission for demolition. Now 6 years down the line we are hoping that the house will finally be restored and converted in such a way as to honour its special history.
You might be interested in our sister website https://sirwilliamarrol.wordpress.com which has a history of Sir William Arrol and the Company. Although the site mainly covers the period up to 1913 when Sir William Arrol died, we would be interested in any stories you have concerned with your father’s time working for the company.
A commendable campaign, but I cannot feel that a plaque at the site, and all monies probably raised for the conservation project might be more worthwhile spent upon bursaries/funding for engineering apprenticeships, to allow another generation to find a path to success as did the great Sir William, who worked so hard to escape his humble origins, educate himself and build up his business through time; if they have the drive as did he. I realise that University students are already benefiting from his generosity, but some youngsters not wanting to take the academic route might also benefit in his memory if so arranged.
In our aim to save Seafield House we hope not only to prevent a magnificent building from being destroyed but also to retain a part of the legacy that Sir William Arrol left behind. Whilst I agree that funding for engineering apprenticeships is important, I think that there is also a place for spending money to save historic buildings for future generations to appreciate. Sir William Arrol had a large hand in the design of Seafield House and it stands as a testament to to his engineering prowess that the house has withstood fire and years of neglect. It also serves as an illustration of the life he came to achieve through his own hard work and of a story that is an inspiration to all who might dream of following that path to success.
Thanks to Andy Wightman (@andywightman) for his tweet and support.
A fantastic campaign. Save Seafield House, the former home of Sir William Arrol. @FriendsSeafield